Tormented rationalizations for lying…

Tormented rationalizations for lying… June 6, 2012

…are liable to lash out and punch you in unexpected places.

So, for instance, those who argue that since killing is permitted in war, lying to Planned Parenthood is permitted don’t seem to realize that the logic goes in a very unpleasant direction. Namely, if it’s okay to lie to your enemies because this is “war” then it’s okay to kill them too. Some “prolife” people have already followed this logic to its fatal conclusion.

Me: I think people need to realize that this is “war” only in a metaphorical sense. Otherwise, they are inviting, by their rhetoric, more murders of abortionists since, as some put it, “Any law may be broken to save a life”.

No.  Really.  Some people are actually saying that.  Take, for instance, this stunning piece of “You might want to rethink that” rationalization for lying in this amazing “anarchy for life” argument, which adds blasphemy to the mix:

A priest consecrates the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ acting “in Persona Christi”, with the intention of Christ. Lila Rose approaches the abortionist acting “in persona aborted and unborn” whose souls are enlivening her actions. In the covenant of the human being’s rational, immortal soul, all permission is granted. Any law may be broken to save a life, but there is no law broken by Lila Rose any more than a firefighter who enters a burning building and seizes a frightened child and carries her to safety. Will you then say that the firefighter laid hands on the child unlawfully? No, Lila Rose is actually saving the abortionist’s immortal soul and preventing him/her from going straight to hell. Now, that is doing God’s work “in Persona Christi”. Something about paying thithes on mint and ignoring and disobeying God, our Father in Heaven. Get real.

“Any law may be broken to save a life”. Really? Any law? i can break the moral law against blasphemy or child molestation or rape simply to save my own skin? If a psycho commandeers a restaurant and tells the terrified patrons they must rape one of the kids or he will murder a hostage “any law” can be broken in order to save that hostage, including the law against rape? Really?  If the Emperor bids me to blaspheme Christ and worship Caesar I can break the first commandment in order to save a life?

I realize what the commenter is {recklessly) saying: the law was made for man, not man for the law. But the main thing to realize is that she is saying it recklessly and without regard for the consequences of her thinking–which is exactly what Live Action and their ardent defenders are doing (which is particularly ironic since, in fact, none of these “stings” have saved a single life, but have helped PP raise more money).

Nor does the commenter’s recklessness stop there. Because in wildly concocting the theory from thin air that Live Action’s lies are just like priests acting in persona Christi, it doesn’t seem to occur to this reader that the inevitable corrollary of her claim is that a priest acting in persona Christi is, therefore, lying about representing Christ. This is an… inadvisable… way to proceed. Particularly since the Live Action people do *not* claim to be acting in persona foetus. They did not walk up to the door of Planned Parenthood and claim to be unborn babies or to be acting on their behalf or in their place. They claimed to be pregnant and seeking a sex selective abortion and they then tried to get a PP worker to help them kill their baby on those grounds.

Think about that: What LA did was, in effect, urge somebody who is already complicit in grave sin to sin, if possible, even more mortally. Comparing “tempting somebody to sin mortally” to consecrating the Eucharist is grotesque. Calling it “actually saving the abortionist’s immortal soul and preventing him/her from going straight to hell” is, in fact, the polar opposite of what is being done. LA’s sting is, very simply, tempting the clinic worker to damn herself.

Someone will say, “The PP worker probably would do it anyway, so tricking them into doing it is okay.” Um no. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:1-4). When your brother or sister sins, you are to rebuke him, not tempt him to sin even worse.  Nowhere in the length and breadth of Christ’s teaching will you find a shadow of a hint that you can fight sin by leading your brother into temptation and then nailing him when he succumbs to your temptation. Not that temptation and accusation are not biblical, of course. It’s just that the character in the Bible who is known as the Tempter and the Accuser is not Jesus but Satan. Indeed, even with Judas Iscariot, whom Jesus *knows* will betray him, you see Jesus repeatedly trying to get Judas to repent, not hurrying him down the road to Hell since he’s already a mortal enemy anyway.

This illustrates a huge point: It is one thing when the evildoer’s will to evil is allowed to happen in respect for his freedom after all attempts to warn him and call him to repentance are exhausted (“One of you is a devil/One of you will betray me/What you do, do quickly”). It is another thing to present yourself to the sinner (and, by the way, for all we know, the PP clerk’s culpability may be minimal due to ignorance, trauma, or who knows what else and her conscience may still be as open to the Spirit as Abby Johnson’s was) and deliberately *tempt* them to commit a mortal sin. It is like offering a bottle of whiskey to an alcoholic and saying, “What the hell. He’s a drunk anyway. So what it if destroys him? It’ll really expose how the alcohol industry ruins lives!”

I am increasingly amazed that as the meager emotional dividend of schadenfreude for Live Action’s stunts now yields to Planned Parenthood actively crowing over turning LA’s “stings” into fundraising tools, Christians just double down and ignore it while laboring to defend lying for Jesus with more and more grotesque rationalizations. And now we’ve reached this nadir: that the sort of thing fundamentalist atheists used to say to condemn the “mumbo jumbo” of the Mass (“There’s no difference between a con man lying about his identity and a priest saying that he stands in persona Christi“) is now being said by “faithful conservative Catholics” to defend lying! The energy is all driving toward finding rationalizations for lying and for tempting somebody to damn themselves.  What in God’s Holy Name does that have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Especially when no lives are, in fact, saved and PP benefits.

For benefit they do, a fact to which apologists for LA are blind.  Prolifers who support this point exclusively to commentary from within the prolife bubble, slap each other on the back that Planned Parenthood has been “exposed” (meaning “prolifers who already know that PP is a disgusting organization have had their convictions ratified”) and do not stop to ask whether the huge percentages of undecideds out there share their certitude that the videos prove a thing.  Still less do they pay attention to the uses made of LA’s tactics by PP and its supporters, who do not, in fact, say, “Curses!  My evil plan would have worked if it hadn’t been for those darn kids and their hidden camera” but instead gin up the troops and make lucrative converts of undecideds with the fact that LA is documentably on record as lying.  Does PP lie too?  Of course!  All the more reason not to hand them a sword with “I lie to PP” writte on it, because they will happily shout “LA lies about PP too!”

So: even good ends don’t justify evil means. But who can explain why anybody in their right mind would continue to justify evil means when the good ends turn to crap in their hands and actually benefit PP? (Combox comment from HuffPo article linked above: “After seeing the unedited video I just e-donated more to PP than I was planning to this year.”) Dumb, dumb, dumb. It’s like prolifers who support and rationalize this stuff are so impatient to land a Hulk Smash! punch on PP that they are coming to care more about having an emotionally cathartic experience of schadenfreude than they are about actually doing what it takes to win the prolife struggle by the boring means of prayer, honest witness, and argumentation.  They want something fast and sexy, not the plodding practice of the virtues and the same old stuff.


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  • Its seems like a display of profound lack in faith when we trust lying over the proven graces & works of God that come from prayer & the Eucharist. Bishop Samuel Aquila out in North Dakota had an adoration chapel opened across the street from an abortion facility, Bishop Thomas Doran permitted his priests to pray prayers of exorcism over the now-closed (praise God!) abortion center in Rockford, and pro-lifers in all parts have been committed to praying outside of abortion centers for years. Why would we place our trust in something so weak as lying when we have such great tools, if you will, that are not only effective but even build us up?

    • Agreed, Father! Many thanks to Mark for fighting the good fight.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    It is like offering a bottle of whiskey to an alcoholic and saying, “What the hell. He’s a drunk anyway. So what it if destroys him? It’ll really expose how the alcohol industry ruins lives!”

    Great simile; it points out exactly the error in leading others to sin to make your point that they’re sinners.

  • Brian

    All that talk about breaking laws for the sake of saving lives just brings to mind one of my favorite scenes from A Man For All Seasons:

  • Kristen inDallas

    Awesome article! I keep wishing that Live Action would go one one of its “Stings” with an actual pregnant woman, claiming to be pregnant, who actually wants to keep her child, and requests an actual ultrasound. Or any woman who actually wants a mamogram. No lie needed. Let PP turn down these valid requests for care that would and should arise from their posturing themselves as women’s healthcare providers. Over and over and over. I want a 30 minute video of PP workers in every state saying over and over again… “Sorry, we don’t do that here”, “Here’s a reffferal, go spend another day in another waiting room”, “you sure you don’t want that abortion?”, “Birth Controll pill for the road?”. Truth is some powerful stuff.

  • So if undercover reporting is immoral, then I would assume undercover policing is too. They are both essentially a lie. So then how do you fight the mafia? Do you realize what society would be today without undercover reporting and policing?

    • Mark Shea

      Appeals to the CIA as the model of moral health are inadvisable. So are appeals to Donnie Brasco. And “best of all worlds” arguments are also problematic. If “what made society what it is today” is the criterion of the good then anything that that has ever happened is good. Do you realize what society would be today had not we exterminated the Indians and driven them from their land? Do you realize what society would be today without the smashing of Irish civilization by the English? Do you realize what society would be today without the assassination of Lincoln, the Black Death, and Great Schism? Do you realize what society would be today without the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot? That God brings good out of evil is not a rational for doing evil that God will bring good out of it. “Lying, by its very nature, is to be condemned”. There is not exception made for spies, cops and reporters. And the corrosive effect of lying on the lives of those who do it is an awfully powerful argument that the game is not worth the candle.

      So, for the matter is the corrision evident in the fact that so many Christians are laboring so hard to justify lying even when it is demonstrably counter-productive.

      • So, would it be a sin for a Catholic to function as an undercover police officer who would participate in a sting at Planned Parenthood similar to what Live Action is doing if they suspect crimes are being committed?

        It seems to me that there is a difference here. The intent of a liar is to deceive, but the intent of someone going undercover is to test. Someone who is being tested is not owed the truth until the test is over and, indeed, I believe the persons deceived by Live Action are later informed of the investigations.

        Before you accuse me of mental justifications in justifying an evil, I do think your arguments are strong, but I want to say that I’m having a hard time seeing the difference between a Government officer who deceives in a sting and a private person who does the same. I’m also having a hard time thinking that Government officers who deceive are committing sins. How about military officers who send false communications? Are they gravely sinning, for example?

        • Darn, no editing here. I meant “mental gymnastics” when I said “mental justifications” above.

        • Mark Shea

          No. The intent of the LA liar is to tempt somebody to commit a mortal sin.

          • Really? Is it that simple?

            One could argue that their intent is to protect young women from crimes that they suspect are being committed in the PP office. They can only do this by testing and exposing PP. The fact that PP workers might be tempted to sin seems like a side-effect of the test and the case is covered by double effect.

            I have two questions that I’d like see answered directly:

            If a Catholic police officer was tasked to do the same things LA was doing to uncover crimes at a PP office, would that police officer be sinning?

            Is a Catholic military officer who sends a false communication, knowing it will be intercepted, sinning?

            • Mark Shea

              On the contrary, the *goal* of LA is to get the PP worker to sin mortally. Indeed, it is the hoped for goal. Otherwise the lie has no point. And it is a lie. Morally, it’s analogous, as I say, to giving an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey and then claiming that his death by alcohol poisoning was a side effect covered by double effect since your *real* goal was exposing the alcohol industry’s devastating impact on alcoholics.

              Re: your two questions, if a cop lies about his name and purpose, we don’t ask “Is he lying?” Ordinary people ask “Is he lying in a good cause?” and answer in the affirmative. I merely add that when defenders call it lying, it’s lying. I also add that since the catechism says lying is, by its nature, to be condemned, then yes: it’s sin (albeit probably not very culpable).

              As to the military officer, depends on what the communique says and how it’s worded.

        • Hezekiah Garret

          Military officers do not send false communications, without risking the yardarm.

          Their intended audience is usually given multiple messages, or a garbled message. That audience knows which message is the correct one, or how to decipher the garbled text. He is not deceived, nor is the communicating officer intending to deceive him.

          But the enemy, should they get a hold of it, might choose the wrong message, or decipher the garble poorly. And if they should do so, how is that any business of the officers in the last paragraph?

          No gymnastics here. This really is shockingly simple stuff.

          • David

            There seem to be tortured efforts to oversimplify the matter when it is hardly such. (I am not agreeing with the anarchy for life argument.) There is a straw dummy argument set up by labeling the LA conduct as lying, without any discussion of other issues such as role playing or simulation for which legitimate arguments can be made. The other party has the freedom of choice not to go along with the scenario and are not necessarily induced into sinning. As such it is wrong to automatically conclude that the goal of the action is to have the PP employee sin. (Are there other videos that were done in which PP did not say the desired thing and thus are not released?)
            We also need to closely analyze what the employees have actually said. They seem to be providing information that you would expect of PP and that would indeed be the job of a PP employee, as ugly as it is: how the young woman can obtain an ultrasound to determine the baby’s sex, and can return for an abortion. The employee is not being tricked into providing something that otherwise would not be available unless LA had brought it up. For PP to say that they will provide an abortion and tell you where to get an ultrasound, etc., are factual statements. The employees, at least in the 1st and 2nd videos, do not seem to be suggesting a course of action that would otherwise not occur. LA is providing video coverage of what normally occurs to show people who would not otherwise have any occasion to be in a PP clinic and talk with them.

      • I give you credit for your idealism and purity. It’s certainly admirable, but I couldn’t support or advise such a position. I understand it’s hard to discern when the greater good would come of a sin, but as humans we have to feel our way through it. We don’t even have to speculate on what it would be like. We know how widespread the mafia became in the 1950s through the 80s on the east coast. The undermining of the crime underworld through all the various means available to law enforcement has turned that around significantly.

        • Mark Shea

          I understand it’s hard to discern when the greater good would come of a sin, but as humans we have to feel our way through it.

          CCC 1759 “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.


          1786 Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.

          1787 Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.

          1788 To this purpose, man strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

          1789 Some rules apply in every case:

          One may never do evil so that good may result from it;

          – the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”56

          – charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience: “Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.”57 Therefore “it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.”58

          Romans 3:7-8: But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? .And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.


          This is the teaching of the Church. It is not “idealistic”. It is realistic. What is idealistic and fantastically unrealistic is to believe that a culture can lie its way to truth, sin its way to virtue, and cheat its way to justice.

          • kenneth

            It is the fatal delusion of all crusades and revolutions: The idea that one’s cause is so holy, so pure, that it grants a temporary exemption from the petty rules of decency and ethics. The idea that one can do a “little evil” for a much greater good, and that one will have the wisdom and self-restraint to carry it off without gross excess. It is the reason our own country more and more resembles the totalitarian regimes our fathers and grandfathers spent decades working to defeat. It is also the reason that the pro-life movement is widely seen as just another ideological street gang advancing its flag with whatever Machiavellian guile and force it can muster.
            Much of this discussion, and the parallel one about undercover actions by gay activists vs therapists, have focused on the actions of the “investigators.” They are, in both cases, damaging to their respective causes and rely on deception. At the same time, I don’t have much pity for the parties on the other end of the actions either. Nobody ultimately gets entrapped if they’re not willing to go for the bait. Integrity is the best defense against “getting tripped up” by undercover agents, authorized or homegrown. If you do what you say you do, what you’re supposed to do, even in the sanctity of a one-on-one with a client in a closed-door conversation, you never have to worry about who sent them or whether they’re wearing a wire.

            • Mark Shea

              Tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you said. – Mark Twain

              • kenneth

                Truly one of the reasons I decided against becoming a grifter or politician (same species?), is that it’s just simply too damn hard. You have to have a superhuman recall, on the order of a mentat or Rain Man, to keep track of who you told what and when, to keep the details of your “story” straight etc.

          • It is too idealistic. When has a society really lived by that? Name a culture. I can point out some of the hypocrisy of that: Constatine fighting a war which results to the benefit of the Church (and he’s made a saint too), Joan of Arc made into a saint for fighting a war (and presumably killing people on the battlefield) to rightly expell the English, Army chaplins who serve (they don’t fight but they certainly support people who kill, or at least don’t stop the killing in front of their very eyes), priests and all Catholics who live in the safety of their abodes because police have cleaned up the streets from crime (have they ever spoken out against police methods?). In fact there’s an issue going on in NYC today about police stopping suspicious people and searching them. I have heard Cardinal Dolan speak out about this and siting the CCC. Anyway, there are Catholic soldiers, Catholic policemen, Catholic lawyers (who as a rule cannot be completely up front, to put it mildly, in court), Catholic parents who lie to their children about Santa Claus and all sorts of more serious things, Catholic politicians, Catholic diplomats, Catholic corrections officers, Catholic teachers who don’t always tell students the truth on matters, Catholic businessmen who negotiate deals, Catholic bankers, Catholic journalists. I can go on and on. Has the Catholic Church ever reprimanded these people citing CCC1759? If they did , not only would you have a small church, but a nearly non-existant church. Not only is it idealistic, it’s utopian.

            • Typo correction. I meant to say “I haven’t heard Cardinal Dolan speak out about…”

  • Ry

    I have to say that I have been uncomfortable with these PP stings going all the way back to James O’Keefe’s stunt to trick a PP rep into agreeing to accept money to set aside for aborting a black baby. I could never articulate why I didn’t like these stings when so many of my pro-life friends regarded them as PR wins. Mark’s posts on this issue have been helpful for me to realize what I’ve always disliked about this tactic. Thanks!

  • Kirt Higdon

    I am always puzzled when supposed Christians advance the argument that lying must be OK if the government authorizes it and hence it must be OK for the individual as well. This type of moral jiu-jitsu “reasoning” levers God and the Church out of the picture altogether. So was it OK for the US government to arm the Mexican drug cartels with more than 1000 military grade weapons which they then used to kill many innocent people in Mexico and even a US border patrol agent? And if it was OK for the government to do it, would it be just as OK for private individuals to do it? And if not, why not? After all, the government is apparently the source of all morality and the need to take down a “mafia” supercedes any mere commandment of God.

  • David

    Here is a more balanced piece by Fr. Brian Mullady from the very first round of LA videos, that points out it is not so cut and dry to label the LA actions as lying: